Here is the long and short of it--the show royally sucked--I was off by sixty per cent--and aloha, can you say "sabbatical", cause I am taking one next year, and probably will never come back.


OK, here is some real meat.  God bless Ruth and her review, lets just say it left you wanting to know much more.

I will give you the "much more."


First a little history.

I have done this show for 23 years since 1988.  Was in the State Street show six years and have been in the Guild's Show, always on Main Street, the rest of the years.

The merchants of Ann Arbor control what goes on at all of the shows.  They are a greedy bunch, who don't really care much a bout the arts, as they care about lining their pockets and getting rid of surplus goods.

The shows started, eons ago, as a way to attract people into Ann Arbor in the middle of summer when most of the college kids are gone.  They figured if they held an "Art Fair" it would attract a crowd--plus--and this is really the key--it would give them a venue to move excess goods.  They would set up booths right out on Liberty and State Street, right beside the artists, as is well-evidenced at the State Street Show.

You notice the shows all end on Saturday.  No Sunday biz.  Why is that?  Because the merchants are not open to ,

make money, so they won't let the artists make money.

Of course the "party line from the merchants" goes something like this.  We gotta close the shows on Saturday, so the cleanup crews can get AA back in shape for Monday.  I say "BS."

On any home football weekend in AA they have just as big of crowds as they have for the art shows.  Yet they manage to cleanup on Sunday so things are good for Monday.  Bottom line, if the merchants can't make any money, then they won't let the artists make money.


History lesson 2.

For years, for most of us pros, who make a living at this biz, this was the biggie of the summer.  You had four days to sell, you had crowds with moola to spend.  We are talking pre-recession, before 2006.  Many of us made $15K-$25K in those times.  Some artists could live off their sales from the show for six months.

Those days are gone.

Then the merchants did an ironic money squeeze in about 2006, just as the recession started here.  They made it so that booth fees doubled.  Booths that were under $500 were now almost $800.  Double booths and 10'x17' booths were nearly $1500.

Plainly said folks, the show costs are not worth it.


Let us talk about "NOW"


Here are the facts plain and simple why this business model does not work for 90 per cent of us.( Of course there are going to still be success stories out there, but very few.  And for every one success, I can show you fifty others who barely made expenses).

You have more than 2000 booths at all of the shows, including the scab booths, chasing a paltry turnout of buyers with disposable income.  Too many booths, too little buyers.  A very thin slice for most of us.  The model is broke folks.


Michigan's economy is not going to turn around for years to come.  Disposable Income is almost an artifact in this state.

The only real remedy to help us make money is this: Reduce the number of exhibitors by one-third in all the juried shows.  Make it a three-day show, drop Wednesday.  End the show at an earlier time.  Reduce the booth fees.  They are excessively high for the return on your dollar.

I can tell you right now, nobody is going to do any of the things I suggested.

The merchants want more.  They would love to push the Guild Show right off Main Street so that they can run their own show--with of course, ala State Street, their booths right out there next to the art.

Let us now talk expenses, or should we say investments, that the artist takes on to do this show.


Most of us, who have to travel to AA and stay in lodgings have a minimum of $1500-$2000 in operating expenses.

Booth fees--$750 for a 10'x10'   10'x17' are $1300  Double booths are double the 10'x10'

Auto costs: A minimum of a full tank of gas each way--so about $200-$275

Auto parking: $100

Lodging: A minimum of $50-$125 per night times six: $300-$750

Food: At least $50 per day or higher.

Sales;  Ah, thought we ever get around to that.

Average exhibitor this year barely made expenses or a little over.  In the past many people have had an"OK" show by doing around $5-6K.  Other pros have cleared $8K or better.  I am talking recession-era now.

Sorry folks, but that almost $2K in operating expenses could be better invested for a return on money, rather than AA.



Excessive heat way beyond the norm (It is always hot at AA) but this went beyond that.

People were fainting in their booths on Thursday with 100-degree temps.  Crowds were almost non-existent. At times, you could have thrown a bowling ball and a cinder block across the aisle and not hit anybody.

When the crowds did show, they bought very little and very mediocre.  Low end sales.  I was off by 60 per cent over last year.

This is show in a death spiral.  Things will get worse.


Take your money and invest it elsewhere.  Ann Arbor is a bad gamble.

That is all I am saying.  Aloha, Nels.  You can fool me once, but you won't fool me twice.


Postscript:  I am in the Guild show on Main Street.  They run a professional operation.  Plenty of help for the artists, water, food , booth-sitters.  They do a creditable job.

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  • This was my first AA show.  I was on Liberty as part of the Guild show.  I was disappointed with my booth sales over the 4 days.  However, my saving grace was commissions coming from the show (I do found metal sculpture).  This was my best commission show, ever.  I'd resisted doing AA for years, based just on the 4 day, long day hassle.  Now I say sign me up for next year (I'll block off a week next year to recover)
  • Sounds to me there is a lot of fence mending that has to be done between the shows and the merchants (even the shows that are the merchant organizations) and the university. I am astonished at the university's uncooperative attitude and that the buildings were not accessible during tornado warnings and during this extreme heat AND that artists can't sit on the grass!

    I'm hearing good things about Maggie Ladd at the South U. show and Max Clayton and the Guild staff and Mo Riley also, all carrying on under the imposed rules and doing their best.

    Carlye, that must have been terrible for you. I know you've been working hard on your personal life with your husband ill for a long time. You probably were looking forward to being out with your friends in the art fair arena after your break. This had to be a terrible disappointment. Best wishes and I look forward to seeing you soon.

  • What others have said applies equally to our corner booth on Liberty in the Guild area.  The hot weather led to fewer people listlessly shuffling past in the heat, without much buying energy.   The Guild did its usual excellent job of organization and support.   And yes, the merchants are greedy.  The one in back of our booth put up a canopy and set up sale merchandise within a foot of the back of our booth, and well overlapping the passage way that made it a corner booth.  This was unacceptable to us; we could not store inventory, sit back of the booth, and had difficulty moving out.  However, we could do nothing about it.

  • Patricia, you are obviously very upset about Ann Arbor and you have made some excellent points - I totally agree with you about the locking of Angell Hall.  However, I feel I have to point out that what you said about the storage situation is simply not true.  The Guild has to have rules to satisfy both the University and the city of Ann Arbor in order to hold the fair on State Street.  One of the rules is that there can be no storage outside your booth.  You are allowed to have 2 chairs and 1 table.  The rule has been the same for several years and is clearly stated in all of the information.  Granted, many shows have such a rule and don't enforce it, but at Ann Arbor it's enforced.  It is NOT different depending on where your booth is.  We are on the other side from you.  We are NOT allowed to store anything on the sidewalk.  In addition we have a hedge along the sidewalk and someone from the university always comes along to make sure we don't have anything touching it.  If you saw storage on our side the exhibitors were breaking the rules and someone probably came along and made them remove it.  I know that this happened last year - there were several new people near me who didn't realize the rule would be enforced.  We build storage areas inside our booth - and we have large work - that we use mainly at Ann Arbor, but can also be used when we get a tight setup other places.  There's plenty to be upset about, but please stick to the facts.
  • Carlye, my condolences on the passing of your husband.

    Having shown with you in a gallery setting, you are one of Ann Arbors finest artists and should always be treated with the respect that you deserve.  I think you proved my point about what the Ann Arbor fairs are and have become.

    The Guild allows a sabbatical.  I'm not sure the other shows allow that.  

  • Wow Carlye what a nightmare!   I am so sorry to hear how your were treated.  A "squatter"..really?  Yikes.

    Once was enough for us at Ann Arbor, we have not been back.  $800 is a lot of money for a booth fee not to mention all the other expenses in these times.  As I mentioned previously; I think we should all be a lot more selective about the shows we participate in.     If enough artists did not throw their hard earned  money at these kind of shows the organizers would have no choice but to make some serious changes.  Carlye, I am not directing this at you but it baffles me how many times artists will complain about a show but continue to do it year after year.   I guess they have a lot of expendable income!


  • I'm weighing in on Ann Arbor. I too have done one of the A2 shows for more than 20 years. The last few I was unable to participate due to my husband illness while I took care of him. Last year he passed away. I couldn't do it afterwards that same year but this year I was determined to reenter. I really just wanted to participate. I have never done that well compared to most artists but since I live in town I hoped I could at least do the Ann Arbor show to keep my oar in the art community. Well, set up on Tuesday almost killed me. It took 4 hours to put up my booth compared to a usual 2 in the heat. The extra time was sitting and drinking water. And it didn't include the artwork which I have the luxury of going home for a second load. I was cramping and wobbly and felt disoriented. It was all I could do to walk back to my van to get home to the airconditioning. Wed was terrible in the heat and I went home for a couple hours in the middle of the day. Thursday was beyond anything I'd ever experienced so by noon I decided to go inside the school of social work on S. University. In years past I'd always gone inside for a rest. This year however, with 100 degree temperatures when I went inside the security guy at the door said I was not allowed to sit in the lobby, that they did not allow "squatters"! I am so offended at being treated this way when I was clearly wilted. He said he was only the messenger, someone had told him that was the new rule. Is this our good old university? I am an alumae. It should be illegal to treat someone like that. No matter. I had to get out and go home or be sick. With all that after 4 days of hell I had zero sales! I wouldn't have even cared had it been a good experience. In the afternnon as I left, there was a whole street of empty street parking right up against the art least 40 spaces vacant.  I saw hardly any old friends and my old clientel from Birmingham, they never come anymore. I can't see any point to spending $800 to make myself suffer like that. All the time and preparation that goes into doing the show is for nothing. I did tell Maggie that I doubted I would do it again. She has been very kind to me and has reinvited me over the years. I wish I wasn't arriving at this conclusion. I just don't see the point anymore.
  • i grew up by flint, when i was in junior high an h-school i went every year... loved the atmosphere. art, street performers. college kids in the park trying to make extra cash. since i moved down south 15 yrs ago, i have not been able to afford to make it back to visit let alone to sell. i had no idea it cost that much.... an to hear how bad it really is , is just heart breaking.
  • Like Marjorie, I too grew up in AA,  I lived 3 blocks west of Main St.   The summer sidewalk sales were there first , folks.

    When the original show proved a successful venture, Main Street needed a way to compete. The "FREE Fair" and the Guild came into being, and Main Street saw the opportunity, a partnership was forged.

    I do not dispute the fact that the Cash Cow has been milked to death at this point.  Regardless of the spin, it is sinking of it's own weight. 

    This was our 29th year.  We have loyal customers that came to find us there. We have their contact info. so we can keep them informed about other events that they can more easily find us.  However, this year we specifically asked why, in the face of the dangerous heat, they came anyway.  The answer was that;

    1. They love the show, Ann Arbor, know who they want to find and where they can find them, and have a belief that their favorite artists come to this show with their best work.

    I think those of us with many years in, have an edge. As Nels said, the expenses for us to start up were far less, we have grown with the increases, and so far, we are keeping ahead of it. I can't imagine, as an emerging artist, how this show would pay back quick enough to make it worth the sacrifices. 


    As far as show management goes, the Guild is the tops.  I'm a 33 year member, and this was my 29th year on Main Street.  I'll be back next year......hoping for cooler weather, and a better economy for Michigan.


  • Great report Nels.  We did this show once and only once.  It was a nightmare for all the reasons mentioned above and more.    John's booth was near the port a potties.  Need I say more?  Greed is king there and it overshadows what the show should be about.     Every time we heard that artists were still doing Ann Arbor we were shocked but figured there must be a reason!     I think we really need to be selective of what shows we decide to participate in.    Money is hard to come by in these times so let's be smarter about keeping it and making it work for us.  If enough artists would stop throwing money at venues like this maybe these directors will wise up and really listen to artists concerns and make the necessary corrections that need to happen.
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